“Alexander Ashton! Alexander Ashton! You don’t understand!” she cried. “You don’t know! Once you cross into the Garden, you cannot come out again! To come out without your knighthood, is the greatest disgrace!”
I waved to acknowledge her. I could see a kind of fear in her face, even at this distance. I have often jumped into something without thinking, and I resigned myself to the fact that this was probably just such an occasion, though it didn’t quite seem fair that I should bear all of the burden, drawn as I was without my consent. I was compelled beyond my ability to refuse. I saw that Vena Remontar stepped over to speak with the group of templars, no doubt to plead that I was only an ignorant savage. I didn’t watch to see the outcome, but turned and made my way into the wilderness.
I had walked a mile or more, when I turned to look back. The gate was no longer visible, lying beyond a small hill that I had crossed without really thinking about it. In fact, I could no longer see the city in any direction, though I knew that it lay all around me. I didn’t know how large the Garden of Souls was, but there was a small mountain rising up ahead of me, so I headed toward it. I know it must have been a number of miles, but it seemed that I crossed the distance and climbed over the mountain, in no time at all.
When I reached the summit I looked down into a small valley surrounding a blue pool. It was not the most beautiful valley that I had ever seen, but is seemed a nice place to await my soul. I was unsure as to just what I was really waiting for. I knew that the Amatharians met their souls here, but just what was a soul? I could only think of the soul as a mystical force, as in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word, but I knew that the Amatharian soul was different. For one thing, not everyone had one. For another, I knew there was some physical manifestation. There was a force of some kind which made the remiant’s sword glow and cut through anything. I had seen it myself.
I sat down on the ground, below a small tree, beside the blue pool. Try as I might, I just couldn’t feel fearful about what I had done. Any sane person would, I suppose. I had stepped into a life or death situation without any thought at all. If I came out without a soul I would be disgraced and would be forced to leave the only friends that I knew in this world. If I didn’t come out at all, I would die where I sat. Still, I wasn’t sad or afraid or unhappy. I was fine. At least that’s how I remember it.
A slight breeze picked up, and blew low clouds in to block out the sun. I leaned on my right hand, and felt something smooth beneath my palm. Looking down to see what it was, I saw a partially buried skull grinning back at me. I slowly looked around, and for the first time noticed that the ground around the little pool was littered with bones, some with decomposing flesh still hanging upon them. Here were the remains of those who failed to find their souls. I suddenly felt my stomach sink and my loins tighten. Here was the fear that had failed to manifest itself up until this point. I should say two fears, for there were two distinct emotions, and I didn’t know which was causing me the most anxiety– the fear that I would die here, or the fear that I would prove unworthy and drag myself from the garden in disgrace.
These thoughts were still occupying my mind when I noticed a small flame directly in front of me. Something on the ground had caught fire. The fire was the size one would expect from a freshly filled cigarette lighter or five or six wood matches lit together, though I couldn’t quite tell what was on fire. Nothing seemed to be consumed by the blaze. Then the little fire hopped toward me, leaving nothing scorched in its wake, and stopped within arms reach. At the same time, I felt a tickling sensation on the surface of my scalp. I had the impression of thinking a thought, or smelling a smell, or reading a word which I could not quite identify.
“You are my soul,” I said, a feeling of awe coming over me.
The little flame burned and I continued to have the tickling sensation in my head, which continued until it became an itching and then an aching.